Writing a Book and Finding a Literary Agent

By now you've possibly read my exciting book news about my debut novel, which will be published by Harlequin Australia. If not, you can read about that here! I'm often I'm asked about my writing journey, and how I found an agent to represent me. After discussing the topic of finding a literary agent on the podcast this week with Kim, I thought I'd share a little more of my story here, along with some tips for any authors out there who might be thinking of navigating these waters. 

First, Write the Book and Polish It!

To secure agent representation, in most cases, a debut fiction author must have a completed manuscript. And it's not enough to have just a completed manuscript. Your manuscript should be as polished as it can be. You only get one chance with each agent or publisher so it's really important that you try to get your book in best possible shape before sending it out for consideration. 

Receiving Feedback

I wrote my manuscript over a period of six weeks, swapping a couple of chapters at a time with two critique partners. 

While some writers can't stand the thought of sharing work before their first draft is finished, I found that knowing I was on the right track with things really helped with my confidence. It was also great having more than one reader to provide feedback because they each had different strengths and were able to point our different areas in my manuscript that needed work. For example, one of my critique partners had an extremely good eye for detail, and questioned character motivations, whereas my other partner really helped me pack more emotional punch into the story. Either way, it's a good idea to seek feedback on your work from people you can trust.

Once I had some feedback to work with, I rolled up my sleeves and set about revising, which naturally, takes some time! Once that was done, I sent the book out to beta readers, who would read the manuscript in its entirety and provide me with feedback on the big picture.

When my beta readers came back to me with more positive comments than suggestions for strengthening the manuscript, I decided to take the leap and send a query letter out to agents.

Getting Ready to Query

Querying can be a harrowing process. It's a time where you've worked so hard on your manuscript and are likely still very attached to it. Naturally, you wish the very best for it. It's also the point where you lose control over what happens next because nothing you can do can change the outcome of whether you'll receive a request and whether any such request will result in an offer of representation. 

To begin with, I researched potential agents, those that represented the kind of work I was writing, and those who represented authors I admired or liked books that I also enjoyed and added them to the list. As far as resources go, you could try these:

Australian Literary Agents' Association Member Listings

Query Tracker

Writer's Digest Guide to Literary Agents

^Remember that no ethical or legitimate agent will ask for payment in order to represent you. Be sure to research any agency/agent thoroughly.

Writing the Query Letter

There are several components a query letter needs to have. This letter is a professional, business letter of around 3-4 paragraphs, and is essentially a way for you to introduce your book to a potential agent. Firstly, it needs to have a clear hook outlining the conflict. Unlike a synopsis, it doesn't need to reveal the ending.

I spent a LOT of time writing and revising my query letter. It evolved over several iterations before I felt it was ready to send out. I highly recommend having someone read your query letter and provide you feedback on it. Ideally, have someone that has read your book and someone who hasn't, provide you with feedback.

The query letter is important not only because it helps your future agent assess whether they'd like to read more of your work, but your agent may use your query as the basis of their own pitch to editors. 

If you aren't feeling confident about writing your query, there are authors out there who offer query critiques such as Lauren Spieller and Nicole Tone, both of whom have worked as Literary Agent interns.

Sending Your Query Out

Once I sent my query out, I received a few requests for the partial and full manuscript. Most of these came in within a few days of sending my query but from what I've heard, response times to queries can vary widely so don't be disheartened if you don't receive a response straight away. Agents are very busy and very hardworking people, so sometimes it can take a while to hear back. Don't despair, just try to distract yourself from your inbox! I'll admit it, this is easier said than done! The major downside of querying international agents is the time difference and resisting the urge to check your emails in the middle of the night!

Don't be discouraged by any eventual passes you might receive. I know it's hard to receive a form rejection, but you might also find that some agents do take the time to give you some kind and helpful feedback plus an invitation to submit future work to them. Always hold on to the positive feedback, no matter how small! 

To cut a long story short, along the way, I received a request from the agent who ultimately offered me representation and went on to sell my book!

It didn't all happen at once though... 

Sometimes, things just literally fall into place.

At the time, for one reason or another things just didn't line up for us. Around six months later though, my agent had moved agencies and we were able to reconnect. By this time, I had agreed to be represented by a local agent, but due to some changes she was making in her business, we felt that I could best be supported by an agent who was going to be able to work with me over the long term. So we parted ways very amicably, (and still remain friends), and with her blessing, I signed with my current agent. At the time of reconnecting, it turned out she hadn't forgotten my story and had still been thinking of my manuscript. I loved that she completely understood my story and could see in it, the things I was yet to see. What a total blessing to find someone who'd connected with it in this special way! Anyway after re-reading it, she offered to represent me, proving you never know what's around the corner for you on the deliciously wild journey that being a writer takes you on. 

Sometimes, it feels like the Universe has things worked out before we do. Sometimes, we end up exactly where we are meant to be.